09 May 2010

Glimpses Of Terns

IIII ) llllllllllllllllllllll Dark Forest (8May10)

1101 Pitsiiksiinaikawaahko - I assume this will be the last time I see snow on the ground here for the season. We're at the end of matsiyikkapisaiki'somm, and what little remains are narrow strands of drift that will likely melt away by day's end. But the chill is not far gone, and the poplars of the floodplain below still have yet to leaf-out

1118 Its colder here than I thought it would be, and more windy. Very good thing I had a light jacket and toque in the back of the truck. As I start winding my way down the coulee slope, a great blue heron passes overhead, moving toward the river with slow, heavy wing beats

1122 So far, it seems that very little has changed among the plants since last week. The yellow flowers of musineon, dandelion, and buffalo bean are still out, some a bit dulled from the recent freeze

1136 I stop off at the rattlesnake den, but it's just too cold, none of them are up and around. Even the black widow at the one entrance is missing today. I rattle a strand of her web lightly with a stem of dry canary grass, but she doesn't hazard out to check it

1148 Almost to the bottom of the slope, I finally come across my first critter of the day... critter being a very small animal, in this case an apanii larva of some kind. It is slowly worming its way over some dark soil, and as I watch it begins moving down a hole just its size. While it works its way into the earth, a miniscule beetle happens by, so I direct my attention toward it, and when I look back at the larva, it's almost all the way under

1155 At this point, I decide to unearth it, to see if there is anything interesting underneath. There's not, as far as my eye can see. But when I touch the larva, it curls itself into a ball, secretes green fluid from its mouth, and waits for me to go away. I in turn decide to challenge it to a game of patience. While it lays curled, I begin lifting nearby rocks in search of other members of the micro world. The first rock I turn has a pocket of narrow, yellowish eggs under it, almost like rice seeds. I take a couple to hatch at home. Now the larva is on the move, and I shift my gaze back to it. As before, it is searching for an entrance into the subterrainean, and eventually settles on a decent fissure in the soil

1230 After this initial critter encounter, I figure I'll go check in at Grampa's. Grampa is one of the (if not THE) oldest cottonwood in this floodplain. All around his massive trunk are old limbs and strips of bark as wide as most trees. I lift a few of these to see who's around, and am pleased to find that the hairy caterpillars I'd been watching all winter are now becoming chrysalis's. None are fully formed yet, but perhaps by next week they will be, and I can take one home to await the transformation inside, and finally learn their identity

1236 There are also a few spiders around Grampa's place, all of whom I photograph. And I notice that one of the mint plants is sending up shoots and leaves

1300 Heading now to the kakanottsstookii nest, I swing past the Twins (a pair of young, narrow-leaf cottonwoods surrounded by elders) to see if they're leafing yet... they're not. Then, entering the mid-forest meadow, a family of mule deer bounce off toward the river and, when I look up at the nest above, I find the two fluffy owlets appear to be developing just fine

1325 For some reason, the forest seems darker today, not threatening, just less inviting. There's a strange warmth rising from the ground. An entire tree comes crashing down loudly, not far from the deer trail I'm following. There are very few birds singing. And where I sit down on a log to eat my lunch, I see not two meters away the remains of a dead porcupine. The last time this forest felt like this to me, there was a black bear visiting, and I'd seen a badger patrolling the river

1341 I decide to leave the forest proper, and travel instead the flood channel that defines an edge zone between the forest and the rabbit willow groves. No sooner to I drop down into this corridor than I hear the chorus frogs chime up at its far end. And on the ground, between the old, wintered leaves, I see little, brown, cone-shaped to flat mushroom caps

1405 My path along the flood channel takes me in an arch around the forest, past dense rabbit willow, and eventually among clumps of diamond willow. I've not given up on my objective of several weeks running, to spot the first returning sapsuckers of the season. But again, it's not to be. Who I do encounter along this route today are the flickers, mourning doves, starlings, downy woodpeckers, robins, and snorting, upset whitetail deer. I also find the first leaves of silverweed rising from the earth, and photograph a massive fly, with green face and black, furry abdomen, sitting on an old, fallen poplar stem

1430 Rather than continuing to follow the channel through its bulberry zone, once past the diamond willow I move up onto the sagebrush flats and cross over to the coulee slope. I begin my ascent here at a badlands formation, wanting to learn what fossils might be exposed here. What I find are small mussel shells remnant from the ancient sea

1449 The rest of the climb above the badlands is pretty arduous. The incline is steep and the ground is muddy from the thaw. To make matters worse, it begins to rain, and I suddenly become very grateful for the anchorage offered by skunkbrush sumac, because the pricklypear cactus does not provide much assistance

IIII ) lllllllllllllllllllllll Glimpses Of Terns (9May10)

1636 Sspopiikimi - Mahoney and I are here for our regular visit again, on this somewhat cool but sunny afternoon. The turtles are basking, so clearly the serious chill is gone

1641 Right off the hop, before we even get to the edge of the pond, we cross paths with a thatching ant who's hauling a section of grass stem about six times its size. We watch where it's headed and notice a disk of grass growing fuller than that surrounding it. And peering into this grass, we find the thatching nest. Thousands of members of this colony are out on the surface, including many of the winged ones

1656 As we inspect this hive, I see glimpses of a large bird hunting at the pond, maybe a harrier. It's hard to tell from what little I see of it, focused as we are on the ants. A few people passing by stop briefly to ask what it is we're examining, but walk off quickly when they learn it is "only" these common ants

1702 By the time we move on ourselves, the bird I glimpsed hunting is gone. That's fine. There's other things happening north- and midpond. Right where the trail from the parking area meets that which circles the pond, there is a pair of robins acting suspiciously interested in one of the golden currant bushes. They do not fly far, even when we approach them, but we see no nest there yet

1709 On the ground near the currants are about a dozen dandelions in bloom, and there are two different bees pollinating them, a hunt's bumblebee and a very small plasterer

1712 The north coot couple are feeding midpond, and there are two goose couples sitting here on our shore. As we approach, they enter the water, and we see that one of the couples is either the Triplet or Big Island families. They have five goslings - one more than the Triplets had yesterday, one less than the Big Island couple. We will only know what happened here for sure when we find the other family

1715 South-pond is hopping as usual. As we move in that direction, we pass the nesting Canal mama, and there's a goose pair (or possibly family) in the subpond. Then, from the bench above the peninsula, we see the Small Island mama is still incubating. There are two other non-nesting aapsspini couples here, one of whom is now occupying and defending the big island. And of course there's the Marsh couple

1718 As for south-pond ducks this evening, from our position at the bench we can see the two male mergansers along with one redhead couple sitting beside the small island goose nest, there's a cinnamon teal and mallard couple in the near shallows (where a kingfisher is poised, chattering and hunting), and on the main water are two blue-wing teal drakes and one blue-wing teal couple

1724 The water has risen considerably over the past week, which is probably good news for the redheads and others who are planning to nest among the reeds of the marsh. The male chorus frogs are chiming up briefly in the shallows and subpond. A male shoveler just swam into view, following the edge of the wet-meadows. And the Small Island mama is being accompanied by her gander to feed on the golf greens, making a lot of noise on their way as usual

1752 The sight and sound of small birds flittering about in the bulberry and currant patch above the peninsula is inviting enough to compel us into this tick zone. The source, we quickly learn, is a host of myrtle-coloration, yellow-rumped warblers. In addition, we see some of the mountain cottontails that draw so many ticks to this local, and a porcupine, who quickly climbs the only cottonwood here when it hears us coming

1812 Rather than climbing the levee-walk, we follow the water's edge around the south-pond shallows. There's plenty of redwing blackbirds here now of both sexes, but it's been a week or so since we saw any yellow-headed blackbirds. I'm surprised as we get near the forested side of the shallows to find a morel mushroom popping up through the grass. It's the first of its kind I've seen here ever, and though I'm tempted to take it, Mahoney reminds me that we never collect anything when there's only one

1817 Unfortunately, the freeze of last week has done considerable damage to the asparagus plants. All but the most recently emergent shoots are now soggy and drooping, a result of ice crystals shattering their tissues from the inside

1823 It looks like the swainson hawk couple is back. As we sit on the cutbank beside the blind, we see them glide in, screaming overhead. Then one of them swoops down into the trees and lands on the remains of their nest, the same one the Subpond goose mama so recently occupied. This hawk lands and begins to chatter, then perches for a time on one of the limbs close below

1851 Our next area to explore is the wet meadows, seeing as how we haven't been through here in a week or more. We stay clear of the nests we know of, and begin searching for those we don't

1858 The wet meadows is really living up to its name, now that the water is so high. Despite not having heard them for a while, there are yellow-headed blackbirds here. By the subpond we see two males shoot past us in succession

1920 We follow the yellow-heads to the cattail marsh beside the old midpond goose nest. One of the coots is here, and it makes me wonder if the pair who usually nest south have got something in the making in this marsh instead

1934 Having stood among the blackbirds for a time, I suggest we make our way to the forest for a sit down break on one of the logs. Besides, I'm curious about what the robins and mourning doves are doing in the underbrush

1956 A snipe is flying circles above our end of the forest, in display. While Mahoney rests her legs, I scout around the brush for new nests. As far as I can see though, there are none yet. Probably they're waiting for the trees to take leaf

2011 Somehow, we have missed our other resident goose family entirely, but Mahoney's joints are beginning to stiffen in the chilly evening air and it's time for us to go. As we hike up to the levee walk from the forest, we spot the same large, white bird soaring over north-pond as was here when we first came in. This round, we got a better look at it, though not good enough. It's definitely not a harrier or osprey. It's a tern. And from the size of it, I would guess it's one of the caspian terns who would sometimes hunt here in the early evenings last summer

2040 As kind of a nice conclusion to our night, two members of the ksisskstaki family came to feed on the cutbank beside our trail. Staying quiet, they felt comfortable enough to come very close, and when they did feel safer going back to the water, it wasn't with any of the irritated tail-slaps